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Oklahoma Approves Autonomous Sidewalk Delivery Vehicles

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law that will allow small “personal delivery devices” to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks, opening the door for robot deliveries. Some believe the pandemic encouraged lawmakers to approve the legislation.

(TNS) — Drones aren't just for flying.

"Personal delivery devices," or drones that crawl along sidewalks, soon could be used to deliver packages after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law allowing small autonomous vehicles to operate primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks in Oklahoma.

FedEx and Amazon have pushed for similar laws across the country, and both companies already have ground-based delivery drones operating in other states.

"(The law) basically allows personal delivery devices to operate on sidewalks, crosswalks or any street in a municipality, just to make sure that our citizens of Oklahoma are getting the latest technology and deliverables to their home with ease," said the bill's author, state Sen. Paul Rosino.

Amazon brought its Amazon Scout autonomous delivery system to cities in Georgia and Tennessee last year after a yearlong test run in other locales. The Scout debuted in 2019.

FedEx's Roxo delivery bot has performed tests in New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas, and the company said in a statement that it looks forward to introducing the delivery system in new markets.

"We appreciate the support of the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Stitt on the recent passage and signing of SB 706, which will allow for the testing and operation of new personal delivery devices and related technologies in Oklahoma," FedEx said.

If Amazon, FedEx or any other delivery service bring delivery bots to Oklahoma, their use will probably look something like this: A drone operator, referred to in the law as an "agent," would bring a collection of the vehicles to a centralized point. The agent would then set the drones free, allowing them to roll away to their destinations on their own.

Customers then would access the drone's cargo bay and retrieve their items using an app or other kind of verification protocol. The technology has been touted during the coronavirus pandemic as a way to ensure contactless delivery.

Lawmakers at the state Capitol weren't always keen on the use of autonomous vehicles in the state, but have come a long way toward recognizing the value, and existence, of autonomous technology, Rosino said. He credits the change in perception to a number of legislators who have watched the developing technologies for several years, including some who have military backgrounds and are familiar with autonomous vehicles.

"And now it's coming over into the private sector," Rosino said. "I think it's an emerging technology that the state of Oklahoma is primed to take advantage of."

James Grimsley, who sits on Oklahoma's Transportation Commission and is deeply involved with autonomous technology at the Choctaw Nation, said the new law is a positive development.

"The pandemic has accelerated acceptance and a recognition of the need for the next generation of delivery technologies. As an ( Oklahoma Department of Transportation) commissioner, I'm optimistic that some of these new types of delivery may, in the long term, improve safety on our roadways," Grimsley said. "All forms of advanced transportation technology will benefit from careful and proactive planning at the tribal, state and local levels."

While the law allows the vehicles to operate primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks, it also allows them to drive on the roadway in some cases.

"If it's blocked by something (like pedestrians or an unpassable section), it'll drive in the street instead but then finds its way back onto the sidewalk," Rosino said.

Devices cannot interfere with pedestrians or traffic, and they must obey traffic laws. Their speed is limited to 10 miles per hour, and they won't be transporting hazardous materials.

Cities and towns will be able to ban the delivery bots from operating within their boundaries, or within certain districts.

(c)2021 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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